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Driving with pets can be dangerous, experts warn

Many Maryland car accidents are caused by inattentive or distracted drivers. Thanks to public awareness efforts by the government and private organizations, many people now realize how dangerous driving while eating, on a cell phone or texting can be.

However, a driving population that is becoming more aware of the dangers of distracted driving has thus far failed to recognize the danger of driving with an unrestrained pet, experts say. Although conclusive studies on the matter have yet to be conducted, auto safety experts claim that unrestrained pets are responsible for tens of thousands of potentially fatal car accidents each year.

Katherine Miller, a representative from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, warned of the dangers. Miller said that any unrestrained pet can be a serious distraction while driving when the pet begins to seek attention, climbs on the drivers lap or vomits as a result of motion sickness.

Approximately 448,000 individuals were injured in car accidents resulting from distracted driving in 2009, while nearly 5,500 were killed that same year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the most common distractions were cell phones. However, the NHTSA said that pets might have been responsible for a significant portion of the deaths and injuries as well, despite being lumped into the same category as misbehaving children and drivers who apply makeup or read while driving.

Hawaii is unique among the 50 states in that it forbids the operation of a vehicle by a driver with a pet on his or her lap. Oregon is considering the adoption of a similar law.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Experts warn about the dangers of driving with unrestrained pets in the car," 1/26/2011

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